Classic Ceramics - Top Pots At The Shipley Art Gallery

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 11 February 2005

Hans Coper. Courtesy Shipley Art Gallery.

Visitors to the Shipley Art Gallery will be able to see some of the 20th century's greatest studio pottery at Classic Ceramics, on show until May 15 2005.

The exhibition features work from two major private collections - the Eagle Collection and the Abercairn Collection – and will provide visitors with the opportunity to see work by such stalwarts of British studio pottery as Bernard Leach, Gordon Baldwin and Michael Casson.

Mixing the old with the new, the exhibition also boasts work by two of the 20th century's major international ceramicists, Lucie Rie and Hans Coper.

The collections, on long-term loan to the Shipley, are on show together for the first time and complement its nationally renowned contemporary craft collection, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2002.

Elspeth Owen. Courtesy Shipley Art Gallery.

"Classic Ceramics is a unique opportunity for visitors to see highlights of the Shipley's craft collection," said Andrew Heard, curator of the Shipley Art Gallery. "The works, which range from large scale pots to fine sculptural forms in porcelain represent some of the most important developments within the field of 20th century ceramics"

The Eagle Collection is divided into four main categories - the work of Lucie Rie and Hans Coper, Bernard Leach and his followers, Sculptural Ceramics and Continental Ceramics. Works within the collection were selected on the grounds of personal taste resulting in one of the finest personal collections of post-war studio ceramics in the UK.

The Abercairn Collection, however, specifically focuses on the work of two of the world's leading potters, Dame Lucie Rie and her pupil and lifelong friend, Hans Coper.

"The objects on display from the Abercairn Collection are the result of a private collector's passion for the work of Rie and Coper," explained Helen Joseph, keeper of contemporary craft at the Shipley Art Gallery.

Lucy Rie. Courtesy Shipley Art Gallery.

"The owner has generously lent the entire collection to the Shipley Art Gallery in order that others may be able to enjoy these exquisite ceramics. Of particular importance is Rie's first sgraffito decorated piece dating from 1949. This work remained in Rie's own collection until the sale of her studio in 1997. This is the first time that the collection has been put on public display in the north of England and should not be missed."

Before World War II, studio pottery in Britain was dominated by the teachings and work of Bernard Leach. Born in 1887 in Hong Kong, Leach studied at the Slade School and London School of Art.

Living in Japan and China from 1909 until 1920 he discovered traditional Japanese pottery and established a life-long friendship with renowned potter Hamada. His return to England in 1920 has been described as "the single most important event in the history of 20th century ceramics".

Bernard Leach. Courtesy Shipley Art Gallery.

Leach brought with him a uniquely Japanese way of looking at pots. He stressed the importance of a pot's materials, its weight, shape and texture, as well as introducing a bond between those materials and the maker. He suggested an alliance between life and art, a philosophy embedded in the Arts and Craft movement allowing him, like William Morris, to ascribe 'moral' qualities to the well-made pot.

Like Leach, Lucy Rie and Hans Coper brought with them a new approach from outside the UK. Yet, coming from the continent of Europe, their approach to ceramics was totally alien to Leach and the British establishment.

There’s was a natural awareness of the role hand made pottery should have in the modern world and the forms appropriate to an environment of contemporary architecture and design. Rie's background in the Vienna of the 1920s and Coper's knowledge of contemporary European art and sculpture led them naturally to place their own work in the mainstream of European Modernism.

Together Rie and Coper revitalised a craft tradition that the Second World War had disrupted. Their tableware of the late 1940s and early '50s was sophisticated and metropolitan, in strong contrast to the rustic tradition of the Leach school.

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